Performance Reviews: The bad and the good
This is the third in a series of posts on how to build a great team.
For many, this is performance review season, the annual ceremony that direct reports fear and managers loathe. Those up for review dread being assessed - judged, if we use the word that more accurately reflects how the ceremony makes us feel. Those delivering the reviews are equally wary. They face a minefield of potential unintended consequences. It’s no wonder so many of us try to put the things off. I had a peer who was habitually a year late in giving reviews to her team! What follows are observations, lessons learned and tips on being reviewed and reviewing others.
Why we don’t like them
We are open to certain feedback
People are fond of saying they are open to feedback. At work; in relationships; as you bite into their overcooked salmon at a dinner party. But what they really mean is that they are open to hearing positive feedback. They tend to be less open to feedback that is less than flattering.
Underpinning the anxiety of a performance review is a basic human aversion to being judged. From the dawn of time there have been dire consequences to being judged harshly. As a result, we are conditioned to be cautious when entering a situation where we will be assessed. Often the caution far outweighs the potential danger, and this holds true for performance reviews: Physiologically, we are in fight or flight mode when, in fact, the worst thing that is likely to happen is our boss says we need to improve.
When performance reviews are tied to promotion or salary raises, the dread increases tenfold. In this scenario one person’s judgment impacts a direct report’s livelihood. With adrenaline flowing and heart rate elevated, it should not be surprising if a direct report behaves defensively or emotionally. For some, a performance review is the fulcrum between their work life and their personal life, its outcome impacting them and their families in material ways.
Complicating the review process is the fact that everyone responds to personal critiques differently. I once gave two individuals very similar assessments. One left the room energized and focused, having accepted my challenge to improve in a particular competency. An hour later the second individual left the room in tears. Same feedback; different results.
The bad and the good
Strive for balance
Lest anyone think that managers enjoy the review process, consider their dilemma. If you judge average and weak performers too leniently, you tacitly encourage them to (a) remain in the organization and (b) continue performing at their current level. What’s more, their high-performing coworkers will feel demoralized when they see that their own standards are higher than those set by their manager. Judge top performers too leniently and you risk starving them of opportunities to grow professionally. Top performers tend to be development-hungry; if you don’t challenge them to improve they feel starved. Counterintuitively, by heaping praise upon them without accompanying opportunities to grow, you will drive them to seek a more challenging opportunity elsewhere. On the other hand, judge your team too harshly and you risk breaking your team’s spirit, leading them to believe that their worklife is doomed to be a Sisyphean existence. No matter what they do, they cannot satisfy the boss. Consequently, they will do as little as possible until they find an exit strategy.
Performance reviews are designed to be one-sided, which makes them inconducive to productive dialogue. At its worst, a manager walks away from the review feeling heard and effective, while the direct report walks away fuming because he or she had no opportunity to express his or her perspective. This is one of the primary reasons experts advocate so strongly for ongoing feedback throughout the year between manager and direct report. These less formal check-ins are much more conducive to candid, two-way communication. The stakes are lower; the venue is more casual; and there is no HR template sitting on the table between you. If feedback has been honest and ongoing throughout the year, the one-sidedness of the formal review isn’t as problematic because the direct report will have already had plenty of opportunities to share his or her perspective.
Living to work or working to live
There are many amusing “principles” about how various groups view work. We all know people whose entire identity is tied to their position. We all know others who simply slide by without ever letting work stress them out. Everyone is somewhere on this spectrum and it behooves managers to figure out how their direct reports view work in the broader context of their life. Some individuals crave responsibility. Some simply want a raise. Some want to make a difference in the world. Without knowing what makes a direct report tick, a manager will use a one size fits all model for reviewing and motivating their team members. A generous raise given to someone who wants to make a difference will certainly be appreciated, but it won’t increase their motivation.
The card says Moops
Criticizing the performance review templates themselves is popular sport, but in my experience they are all the same even in their differences. Besides, their deficiencies serve a valuable purpose: Finding faults in them is a cathartic opportunity for both manager and managed to relieve their mutual anxiety about the judgment ceremony by eviscerating an inanimate, bureaucratic artifact.
A good review begins with good goals
Useful performance reviews begin with well-constructed goals. There are many helpful models for writing goals. I prefer the SMART goals model, which demands that every goal be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound. I’ve read many well-intentioned goals that were useless to me in assessing someone because they lacked a due-date, or specific success criteria, or were unrealistic. As a manager, the rigor of goal-writing models keeps you honest and prevents you from assigning goals that, a year later, neither you nor your direct report will be able to declare successful or unsuccessful with any objective certainty. As a direct report, the same rigor protects you by ensuring that you will be judged on your performance against a clear, realistic, well-defined set of goals.
Eye of the beholder and the free market
When you’re alone in a room with your boss, listening to him or her judge you, it’s easy to overestimate the objective validity of their opinion. They may be your boss, but they are still just one person and their opinion of you may not be shared by others. This works both ways: A boss who thinks you walk on water may overvalue you, just as a boss who thinks you are inadequate may not represent the views of others. I’ve seen untouchables laid off when they began reporting to another boss who valued them differently and I’ve seen unappreciated individuals rise quickly after a change in leadership. The point? If you believe your boss undervalues you, test your hypothesis by applying for other interesting positions. The market will tell you whether or not you were right. If, though, you receive similar feedback from multiple bosses, odds are their valuation of you is valid.
Occasionally, performance reviews are awesome
Despite the many problematic aspects of the review process, sometimes they can be a delight. Most of us thrive on praise and recognition, and when a high performer is being reviewed, it can be a restorative experience for both parties. As the boss, you have a formal opportunity to praise the person’s accomplishments and explain how you feel their skills contributed to their success so that they gain more self-awareness about how and when to apply particular skills to particular scenarios. You also get to reset your expectations of them for next year. On the heels of every promotion I’ve received, I was been given a new charge outside my comfort zone. “Way to go. Now, here’s what I need you to do this year.” As the high performer, you get to feel good about your contributions and reflect on their impact to the organization. As information professionals, we don’t often give ourselves time to self-reflect, instead rushing from one project to the next. The formality of the review process forces you to think about the past year and what impact you have made. Try to enjoy it. Review season only comes once a year.
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Job Seeking: Career Search Strategies Using ReferenceUSA
Attendees will learn how to use ReferenceUSA as part of their career searching strategy. Included will be information on the importance of having accurate information for applications and resumes, creating engaging cover letters, assembling a network of references and referrers, finding key individuals at a business to act as mentors, building data sets of potential employers based on skill set, work history, and preferences, and preparing for interviews and interactions thorough research. We will also explore the Jobs & Internship module, which adds a new dimension to job searching.
ReferenceUSA’s Search Essentials
Designed for anyone new to using our database, this hour-long session will cover all the basics of getting started with ReferenceUSA. We will cover the four essentials anyone, particularly those new to ReferenceUSA, will want to know in order to successfully use the resource. This is also a great opportunity for current users to learn some new tips, tricks, and techniques. Plenty of time will be reserved at the end of the session for questions.
People Seeking People
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Starting a Business
Learn how to use ReferenceUSA to complete the research you need to start a business.
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Managing your Business
For Business Managers who are looking to learn more about:
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Growing your Business for B2B Sales
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Growing your Business for B2C Sales
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Morningstar Investment Research Center is offering two FREE online events next week as part of Money Smart Week. These events are open to anyone with an interest in learning more about investment and retirement.
Morningstar Investment Research Center Training Session
Tuesday, April 26th
1 PM Eastern Time
Are you ready to use Morninstar Investment Research Center but don't know where to start? This webinar will provide an overview of the Morningstar Investment Research Center's most popular features and will last approximately one hour, with ample time for questions.
To join the training session, visit this link on the day of the event: Start Training
Then, dial 866-844-9418 and use conference code 835 661 9570.
A Late Start Guide to Retirement Investing
Thursday, April 28th
7 PM Eastern Time
Are you hurtling toward retirement age but are concerned that you haven't saved enough? Morningstar Director of Personal Finance Christine Benz will discuss the key steps pre-retirees can take to improve the viability of their plans if they're playing catch-up. She'll discuss the pros and cons of working longer, delaying Social Security, and adjusting a portfolio's asset allocation mix, among other factors. She'll also cover traps to avoid if you're working to make up a shortfall. Finally, she'll share some model in-retirement portfolios for retirees and pre-retirees with differing time horizons and risk tolerances.
The event will be streaming live from this link: Late Start Guide to Retirement Investing Live Video
Contact your library to learn about other resources available to help you be Money Smart!
The New Manager’s Survival Guide
This is the second in a series of posts on how to build a great team.
Little can prepare you for being a new manager. You can read books on it, talk to seasoned managers, contemplate the qualities of the best (and worst) managers you’ve had, but because so much of being a manager is experiential, these resources can provide only a cursory understanding of what awaits you. If you are a new manager, or aspire to be one, prepare for one of the most intense learn-on-the-job experiences of your life. That said, below I’ve highlighted 9 key management lessons I’ve learned through my own experience, in the hope that they will aid those of you about to embark on your first management role.
Let the metamorphosis begin
Ever see a job posting for a manager role that doesn’t require prior supervisory experience? Me neither. What this means is that first time managers are almost always promoted by their current employer. Why does that matter? Because it means that your coworkers already know you as a non-manager. You already have a reputation, a network, friends (and foes), and perhaps a few close personal relationships with coworkers. All of which is to say you are not starting from a clean slate. The paperwork formalizing your transition to manager may be sudden, but your reputation will take time to evolve. People won’t suddenly see you differently and it is easy to continue behaving as though you are not responsible for leading and setting an example for your team.
Establish a new dynamic
Often you will be asked to manage people who, the day before, were your teammates. This will feel especially strange because you likely have peer rapport with them, a shared history, inside jokes, mutual dirt, etc. It is tempting to continue in your relationships with them as though nothing has changed. This is a common mistake. Your relationship with your new direct reports has fundamentally changed. You have been assigned the task of leading them. This means, on the positive side, that you are responsible for getting the best out of them, inspiring them, supporting them, and challenging them. It also means, on the negative side, holding them accountable, correcting them, disciplining them, and, when necessary, eliminating their positions. If you’re going to be a successful manager, at some point you will need to do all of these things, so consider how close of a personal relationship you are comfortable having with those on your team.
As a new manager, I initially went too far in my attempts to establish authority. When former teammates I used to joke with made jokes, I frowned and asked them work-related questions to refocus the conversation. I began declining standing social gatherings where I knew everyone would drop all pretenses and blow off steam. This was a mistake because I was unnecessarily alienating myself from my team by pretending to be someone other than myself. My sense of humor and interests didn’t evaporate the day I was promoted, so why would I behave like a robot? It took time to find a balance. Today’s workforce wants to engage with their boss as a coach or mentor, which requires a level of personalness never expected in past generations of bosses. They want to feel valued and they want their job to be fulfilling, and how their boss treats them has a significant impact on their perception of both. So what am I suggesting? Establish a new identity befitting your new position, but at the same time don’t lose who you are. Strive for a balance between being considered “one of the gang” and being seen as “management.” Sound hard? It is.
First day of school
Remember walking into class at the end of summer and seeing a stranger at the front of the room? “Who is this person and, more importantly, what will she let me get away with?” Schoolchildren are masterful testers of boundaries and the first few days of the school year are a high-stakes game of poker between students and teacher, the winner setting the tone for the rest of the school year. The teacher who establishes clear, firm boundaries early on and demonstrates the willingness to follow through on stated consequences will quickly earn respect and therefore the right to lead his or her class. The teacher who fails to establish authority will forfeit the right to lead and face an uphill battle to manage the class the rest of the school year. As a new manager, consider what your ground rules will be, what team culture you want to establish, and what consequences you are willing to employ. Be intentional in your execution of this vision, don’t be afraid to correct your direct reports when they cross a line, but at the same time don’t be shy about publicly rewarding the behaviors you want to cultivate, and both you and your new team will thrive.
To be loved or feared
Hypercompetitive industries like professional sports offer case studies on how a variety of management styles on the Loved-to-Feared spectrum can be equally effective. Disciplinarian coaches like Tom Coughlin can lead their team to Super Bowl victories. Beloved positive reinforcers like Pete Carroll can achieve the same result. Occasionally, a coach comes along who can toggle between both extremes at will. What type of boss should you be? Your top priority is to be an effective (and thus respected) boss. How you do that - your style - is inevitably going to be a combination of what the team needs and your own personality. Don’t worry so much about whether you need to be more authoritarian or more nurturing. A wide variety of styles can work. Be what comes naturally to you with special emphasis on what you think your new team needs; that’s your best chance to be an effective leader.
Find a Mentor
Learning how to manage is mostly experiential, but that doesn’t mean you need to go it alone. As soon as you find out that you are going to be a manager, identify someone in your organization who has the reputation of being a great manager. This will be someone people want to work for, are loyal to, and who has a reputation for developing talent that then moves up in the organization. Approach them about being a mentor. The relationship should be somewhat formal. This is not a series of gripe sessions about how hard it is to be a manager. You and your mentor should set goals based on the management competencies you want to develop. Your meetings should focus on your progress against these goals, using real life situations as practice opportunities and failures (there will be many) as teaching moments. If you’ve chosen your mentor wisely, it’s unlikely you will present them with a situation they haven’t experienced before and cannot provide you with perspective on.
Redefine “Real Work”
An individual performer spends a much greater percentage of time working independently compared to a manager. They tend to think of that solo work as “the real work.” The meetings, peer discussions, networking, reporting up, etc. they often consider nuisances and time-suckers. “If I just had fewer meetings I could get some real work done.” As a new manager, you must redefine “real work” for yourself. Of course everyone at every level has some work best done alone, but as a manager, the majority of your real work consists of activities like monitoring and developing your team; cultivating relationships with peer managers whose cooperation you will need to succeed; reporting up to your boss and others effectively; recruiting talent; staying attuned to the priorities of your organization’s senior leaders so you can align your team members’ priorities to them; staying current on industry trends; creating a brand that lets others know what you stand for; etc. This is your new “real work.” It will feel strange at first and you will long for the familiarity of your former solo duties with warm nostalgia, but resist the urge to slip back into the role of individual contributor. It’s no longer what you’re being paid to do.
When new managers take over a team, they want to earn some early goodwill from their new direct reports. One of the easiest ways to do this - and the most common trap I see new managers fall into - is to act on a direct report’s complaint about something or someone with blind, unquestioning certitude. The new manager says something like, “Leave it to me,” and rushes off to fight with another manager on their direct report’s behalf. While this may generate some short-term goodwill from the direct report, it is poor leadership. First, what if your direct report’s complaint is inaccurate, or entirely one-sided, or simply a manifestation of a personality conflict with another person in the organization? Instead of making a good first impression on a new peer, you look like a fool and alienate yourself from another manager, or even an entire team. Second, what are the odds that your direct report is an entirely innocent victim in the situation? It’s very rare to uncover pure evil in an organization; organizational friction is almost always the result of misunderstandings in which both parties are culpable. But in the rush to come to your direct report’s defense, it’s easy to neglect to question them on their role in the situation. Third, what has your direct report done to try and resolve the issue him or herself? Have they exhausted all options available to them? What was the other party’s response to their attempts? If the new manager doesn’t challenge and support their direct reports to solve issues on their own, they will never develop the critical conflict resolution skills necessary to advance. Equally detrimental, the new manager will find him or herself forever putting out other people’s fires.
When someone is given their first opportunity to be a manager, it’s generally a reward for their performance as an individual contributor and a sign of faith that they can grow into a good manager. The key phrases here are “performance as an individual contributor” and “faith that they can grow.” Being an excellent individual performer is only a weak indicator that someone will make a good (let alone excellent) manager. It’s more like a prerequisite; if you can’t cut it as an individual performer, you’re never going to get a shot at management. Which helps explain why promoting someone to their first managerial role is truly a leap of faith. Often it doesn’t work out, and when it doesn’t, it’s most often because an excellent individual performer has been rewarded - literally - for excelling individually and, once promoted, they aren’t ready to be judged by an entirely different set of criteria.
When individual work is up for grabs, new managers say “I’ll do that” far too often. They don’t realize that, as managers, they will be judged on their ability to achieve results through others and by their team’s overall contribution to the organization. That means the new manager must let go of much of the individual work they are accustomed to doing and being praised for. Being praised feels good. Letting go feels scary. In a sense, you are retiring from the competencies you mastered in exchange for another set of competencies that you barely understand. Passing this first test of management requires that the new manager let go of his/her former duties, trusting team members to own them. This is especially difficult because the new manager knows these duties all too well and is bound to have strong feelings about how they ought to be done.
Faced with this dilemma, things tend to go one of two ways:
1) The new manager can’t let go. New managers who continue to operate as individual contributors are easy to spot. They are seen as micromanagers in the eyes of their direct reports and peers; they work long hours because they won’t delegate; their team is demoralized because they don’t feel trusted; their team’s productivity is lower than it ought to be because team members are underutilized; and they are bottlenecks to organizational decision-making because all decisions must go through them.
2) The new manager stops controlling and learns to delegate. New managers who can sever their emotional attachment to their former duties and entrust their team members to own them are equally easy to recognize. They work reasonable hours; their team members make decisions independently and confidently; their team members take risks; their team is highly productive; and their team members are heavily recruited internally by other managers to more senior positions. Note that all but one of these tangible signs of a new manager’s effectiveness are exhibited not by the manager, but by his or her team. This is the tell-tale sign that the new manager has transitioned from individual performer to effective manager. You can spot a good manager by where their team is excelling without their direct involvement.
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Finding the Best Talent
This is the first in a series of posts on how to build a great team.
In my previous role, I was given the opportunity to build my first team. I inherited a team of three and, as our team’s services became more popular, I grew the team to 22. This meant that, in a relatively short period of time, I wrote about 20 job descriptions, reviewed about 1,000 résumés, conducted about 200 interviews, hired about 30 people, and then observed the results. I’ll tell you upfront that not all of my hires worked out, but I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. I learned some valuable lessons, which I’ve attempted to summarize below in the form of hiring Do’s and Don’ts.
How to Hire
DO revisit the job description. If you are backfilling an existing position, treat it as a blank canvas. We are all creatures of habit, so it is tempting to dust off the departing employee’s job description and post it. Don’t do this. Organizations are living, evolving entities. The competencies you hired for five years ago reflected the needs of an organization that no longer exists. What do you need now? What do you think you’ll need five years into the future? Write a job description that encompasses the organization as it exists today and as you want it to evolve.
DO use behavioral interview questions. I use them almost exclusively. To construct one, start with the end in mind. Let’s say the role you’re hiring for will require a high stress tolerance. How do you find out, in an interview setting, whether or not the candidate can handle the type of stress you envision them encountering on the job? Ask them to describe their most stressful work day. Then ask them what made it stressful. How did they respond? What difficult decisions did they make? What worked? What didn’t work? What would they do differently? If the candidate answers all of those questions with some specificity, you will have a good sense of (a) their stress tolerance, (b) their ability to think on their feet, (c) how they make decisions and (d) their ability to reflect on and learn from their mistakes. Not bad for one line of questioning.
DO be persistent. As the interviewer, you are looking for specific, believable responses. If the candidate glosses over something, ask him or her to go back and tell you more about it. Be persistent. I’ve asked candidates the same question five times. It can feel awkward. If the candidate can’t be more specific, or the specifics he/she provides sound contrived, they probably are. A made-up answer is much worse than no answer. Respect the candidate who says she can’t think of a past experience that matches your question, but who offers an experience that is somewhat similar. Disqualify the candidate who provides an obviously made-up answer and count yourself lucky; you were able to discover that the candidate is deceitful during the interview process, rather than after you hired him.
DO remember that everyone sees the candidate from his or her unique vantage point. One interviewer will be assessing the candidate as a potential direct report. Another interviewer will be considering the candidate as a peer. Still other interviewers will be thinking about the candidate as their potential new boss. And if you have included more senior-level interviewers on your team, they may be evaluating the candidate as a potential successor to you. As much as we might try to focus only on the candidate vis-à-vis the competencies called for in the job description, it’s impossible to avoid projecting what your own working relationship with the candidate would be like. So if, for example, you love a candidate who would become your second-in-charge because of her track record of getting things done no matter the challenges, but your team wants nothing to do with her, it might be because the candidate tramples over peers and subordinates in order to achieve her goals. As the boss, you care most about her ability to get things done; those she would manage care most about not becoming roadkill. If you find wildly differing assessments of a candidate across your interview team, try to understand the “why” behind their assessments. It’s probably about perspective.
DO stay disciplined. After carefully constructing a job description that reflects the organization’s needs, selecting candidates to interview based on how closely they match the job description, and spending the bulk of the interview time determining, through behavioral questions, the candidates’ demonstrable possession of those competencies, I am amazed how often interview teams get together to share their observations and resort to judging candidates based on “likability” factors. “Candidate A was really easy to talk to.” “Candidate B really seemed to care about what we do.” Unless “easy to talk to” is a competency in the job description, put it aside. Similarly, seeming to care is easy to fake and impossible to validate. Don’t lose your discipline at this final, and most critical, phase of the hiring process. To avoid this pitfall, write the competencies from the job description on a whiteboard and have the interview team rate the candidates specifically and only on their aptitude in these competencies as demonstrated during their interview. If someone’s rating seems anomalous to the group, facilitate a discussion to understand the justification for the rating. Did it come from some specific response or behavior in the interview, or is the interviewer projecting?
DO focus, most of all, on culture. Every team has a culture. If your team’s culture is wonderful, hire people that fit into it. If you are trying to change your team’s culture, hire people that have the culture you aspire to and support them so they don’t get frustrated and leave or, worse, adopt the existing culture and stay.
DO avoid the “rebound” candidate. Most interviewers only cursorily ask why a candidate is interested in the role. It’s often an introductory question to get everyone warmed up and the candidate’s answer is not critically assessed. I once made a hiring mistake that could have been avoided had I paid more attention to a candidate’s answer to this question. This (internal) candidate talked about wanting to remain in the organization because she believed in its mission. She claimed to be interested in the work my team did and said she looked forward to working directly with customers. All of this sounded fine, but I should have probed further to see if the candidate could demonstrate this with examples from her past. As it turned out, the candidate was not running toward my job, but away from her current job, where she was in a feud with a co-worker and extremely unhappy. For a short time she performed well, happy to be in a healthier environment, but she soon grew unhappy when she realized she didn’t really want to do the type of work my team was responsible for; it merely seemed attractive because she so desperately wanted to escape. This is the main value of taking the “why are interested in this job” question seriously: To determine if the candidate really wants to be on your team in your role, or if they are merely desperate to get away from their current role.
How NOT to Hire
DON’T stuff a job description full of “duties.” Duties render work into its least interesting form - chores. Also, duties are volatile, or ought to be in a healthy organization, meaning your job description will be out-of-date within a few months. Instead of duties, write down the role you want this person to play in the organization and talk about the responsibilities he or she will have. “You will keep it all on track, ensuring that complex projects are delivered on time and under budget.” “You will be responsible for maintaining our library’s reputation for compelling, interactive children’s literacy programs.” Playing a role and being responsible are much more inspiring ways to view work than completing a list of chores.
DON’T lose sight of the forest through the trees. Some interviewers ask every candidate a set of scripted questions. While being consistent in what you ask candidates is important, and sometimes a legal requirement, don’t forget that the Q&A format of interviews is largely a pretense to see how a candidate carries him or herself. Do they show signs of extreme nervousness or do they seem to own the room? Do they hesitate before answering each question or do they always have a response on the tip of their tongue? Can they answer questions succinctly and logically, or do they talk and talk before (finally) answering your question? Once you assess these behaviors, project how they would play out in the role this person is applying for. If they appear to be unconfident, will that hamper them in their role? If they are deliberate communicators, will that be problematic? If they go on and on, will their customers grow impatient? How the candidate presents is just as important as What they present.
DON’T worry about the clock. I cringe every time I hear a hiring manager say they really need to fill a position by X date. This sets them up to make a mediocre hire. In most cases the manager feels pressure because his/her team is stressed with extra work. While this stress is real and should be addressed (the boss’s responsibility is to decide what work will NOT be done until a replacement is hired), hiring a candidate that is any less than excellent is short-sighted. If you hire a mediocre candidate, the extra work your team was struggling with will persist because a mediocre candidate will make a mediocre team member. An excellent candidate, even if it takes a while to find one, will not only pick up the slack, but lighten the load of everyone else.
DON’T overvalue familiarity. If you’ve worked with someone before, you certainly know them better than other candidates. However, we tend to judge less critically those we are familiar with, which can tip the scale in favor of the candidate we know best, not the best candidate for the role. When people I have worked with before express interest in a job on my team, I tell them candidly (a) whether I feel they are a good fit and (b) that the fact I know them will have no impact on whether or not they are chosen for the role; the best candidate for the job gets it. Period.
DON’T overvalue institutional knowledge. Generally this manifests itself when an internal candidate is being considered for a more senior role. Institutional knowledge requires no special aptitude to learn. Similarly, institutional knowledge can be a negative trait if you, as the leader, want to establish a different organizational culture. Assuming that you are happy with the current organizational culture and are considering an internal candidate for a more senior role, I recommend you neither give credit for their institutional knowledge, nor hold it against them. Judge them on their demonstrable competencies just as you would an external candidate.
DON’T overvalue a candidate for the tools he/she knows. Knowing a particular tool, software or coding language are often a result of circumstance. The candidate happened to work at an organization where the tool was used and therefore had to learn it. This implies very little about the candidate. Much more important is determining if a candidate has the capacity and interest to learn new tools, software or coding languages. To determine this, probe for behavioral evidence of traits like curiosity, ongoing self-improvement, and a willingness to ask for help. Remember that you are hiring for the long-run. Someone who knows your software may make an impact sooner than someone who has to learn it, but their head start will quickly evaporate. What you’re left with can either be an expert on a particular software, which time will inevitably pass by, or someone who is adept at learning that tool as well as whatever comes next. When choosing, be sure to hire the person who demonstrates the capacity for long-term success.
DON’T (necessarily) hire the most talented candidate. This may sound odd, because we all talk about hiring “the best person.” Sometimes - albeit rarely - the most talented candidate is not the right choice. Usually this is because the candidate is overqualified. Imagine that you were hiring an entry-level Cataloger and the ghost of Melvil Dewey applied for the job. At first you’d feel incredibly lucky: “Dewey is alive! Well, sort of. And he wants to work for us! Do ghosts need health care benefits? Who cares. I can’t wait to Tweet this.” Clearly Dewey would be bored stiff after a week of this entry-level work and would move on to another position as soon as he found one, leaving you to start again. Unless you have a clear and rapid succession path for the overqualified candidate to keep him or her engaged, it’s best to choose someone whose expertise more closely aligns with the role.
Talent assessment will never be an exact science; humans on both sides of the interview table are fallible. The best you can do as a hiring manager is develop best practices of assessing candidates that increase your odds of finding the strongest talent for your organization. Talent is by no means the only ingredient in building a great team, but it gives the leader a significant advantage. Watch this space for more thoughts on building a great team.
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Wouldn’t it be great if you could choose someone else’s New Year’s resolutions? You could get your boss to try being nicer and more supportive, your kids to earn better grades, your dogs to stop chewing up shoes, or your internet service provider to care. You’d have the power and they’d have to do the hard work. Brilliant! What if I told you that you can decide the New Year’s resolutions of one special something in your life?
In October I shared a survey aimed at understanding how NC LIVE could better serve its member libraries. This initial survey asked respondents to indicate the services they would most like help with. The results are in. Based on 98 respondents submitting 281 requests, the top three services member libraries would like help with are:
Help me implement and/or better utilize technologies I already pay for (50.0%)
Help me purchase products/services from vendors at a reduced price (42.9%)
- Help me market my library effectively (40.8%)
Now that we have a broad starting point, we want to delve deeper into these top three areas of need to understand exactly what types of assistance your library would benefit from. If you took the initial survey, please help us better understand your needs by taking this follow-on survey. If you did not take the initial survey, that’s okay. Feel free to jump into the conversation by taking this survey; it’s not too late.
In the course of my career I’ve encountered many professionals who struggle with self-doubt. Peers, direct reports, mentees, friends in other fields. Over time I noticed that the brighter and more talented the individual, the more that individual doubted him or herself. Initially I simply added this to my running list of life’s ironies, but then I began to think about what made these individuals talented in the first place. In most cases it wasn’t a manifestation of genius or “natural ability” that set them apart. Rather, what made them talented was the same thing that caused them to chew their fingernails and struggle through sleepless nights: Self-doubt.
If you struggle with self-doubt, congratulations: You possess a quality that, if wielded properly, will help you be incredibly confident. Sound crazy? Read on.
Let’s start with some working definitions:
Bravado - asserting a position with conviction without having conducted a thorough analysis.
Confidence - asserting a position with conviction because you’ve conducted a thorough analysis.
Self-doubt - what separates the two.
Every scenario demands analysis, from the everyday, like navigating traffic on your way to work, to the life-altering, like choosing a spouse. At a traffic light you assess whether it’s legal to turn right on red, then whether or not it’s safe. Then you weigh the risk against the reward. If you wait a few seconds the light will turn green and you won’t have to worry about getting up to speed in time to avoid onrushing traffic. But, then again, the driver behind you is glaring. Nobody enjoys getting honked at. And let’s not forget the deeper, metaphysical question: “If I wait for a green light, does it mean I’m getting old? Am I becoming my mother?”
Our minds analyze and analyze like this all day, every day, about scenarios both simple and complex, benign and dangerous. At work, we face the same spectrum of scenarios, from how to prioritize today’s To-Do list to what organizational strategy we will recommend to our Board of Directors.
In my traffic light example I listed five factors that required analysis. Imagine how many factors must be considered to arrive at a strategy for your library, determine how best to reorganize your staff, or how to manage this year’s budget. There is no denying that analyzing complex, often emotionally charged scenarios can be daunting. It is tempting to make a choice quickly, often on gut-feel, and move on to other, less complex decisions. Sometimes it’s difficult to recognize that you’ve shortchanged your analysis. That is, until you’re standing in front of an audience. Or your boss. Or the Board.
Posture versus Posturing
To illustrate self-doubt at work, consider giving a presentation. We have been taught to present an idea or a position with confidence. Stand up straight; speak clearly and loud enough to be heard in the back; look the audience in the eye. This is all sound advice. But there is something missing, something critically important: Presenting with confidence is not the result of mastering a set of rhetorical best-practices. Presenting with confidence is the end-product of a long process of analysis fueled by - you guessed it - self-doubt.
To walk into a room, say your boss’s office, and present a position with conviction without having thoroughly thought it through is a sham and, more often than not, one that will be exposed. You straighten your posture, use your most authoritative tone, and look the audience in the eye. But inside you are a bubbling lava flow of nerves. You dread the questions you know are coming because you don’t have answers. You feel lightheaded because you realize you’ve been holding your breath. Literally. When you’re asked for data to support your recommendation you demur, saying you’ll need to follow-up with that. At moments like these you swear you’ll never again be so unprepared.
To be legitimately confident, you must first be filled with doubt.
Self-doubt can be a powerful source of energy if harnessed early enough in the process of analysis. In the weeks leading up to an important presentation or a critical work meeting, self-doubt is your best friend. Self-doubt is self-analysis. It is the act of challenging your tentative position, your logic, your assumptions. It is based on the principle that your first idea is unlikely to be your best. And, even if your first idea is your best, how can you know it unless you test it against other ideas? In philosophy Hegel called this dialectics. In Science it is the scientific method. In writing it is the nub of an eraser or the struck through sentence.
The beauty of self-doubt at an early state of analysis is that you are working out the kinks in the safety and privacy of your own company, or with a trusted confidant. You can try out wild ideas, arrive at absurd conclusions, and make blunders of astounding proportions. It’s your time to make an intellectual mess without judgment. By the time you are in front of your audience, you will have weighed every pro against every con, considered every implication, and wrestled every potential rebuttal to the ground. If you’ve put yourself through this type of rigorous self-analysis, nothing your audience can say will surprise you; you’ve already travelled the mental roads they are just now walking down and you know where they lead.
When you are standing there and realize, despite whatever intimidating titles or outsized egos might be in your audience, that you are the most knowledgeable person in the room on this topic because you have done your homework by harnessing the power of self-doubt, the feeling of centeredness and calm that washes over you and lends your voice gravitas and your recommendations the weight of wisdom - that is genuine confidence. And you owe it all to your self-doubt.
Note: My initial title for this piece was “On Confidence,” but then I second-guessed myself.
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ReferenceUSA now offers weekly webinars on a variety of topics--and these webinars are open to patrons from any NC LIVE member library.
Visit the ReferenceUSA webinar registration page to sign up for one or more of the sessions listed below.
Start, Manage, and Grow Your Business Using ReferenceUSA
Entrepreneurs and business owners will learn how to use ReferenceUSA to find the mission-critical information to start, manage, and grow a business. Topics include:
- Searching for businesses
- Locating hard-to-find vendors, both locally and nationally
- Locating subject-matter experts and professional services
- Finding investors, venture capitalists, and angels
- Networking with other businesses in your area or industry
- Developing relationships with related business for cobranding opportunities
- Understanding community demographics
- Surveying locations for expansion
- Conducting competitive analysis
- Planning delivery routes and service areas
- Sourcing new employees
ReferenceUSA Consumer and Lifestyle Data
Ever wonder how marketers and advertisers ‘target’ specific messages to you? Find out how you access the same type of data for your neighborhood or city. Anyone interested in understanding the purchase preferences of a community will find this data both intriguing and informative. Learn how to navigate this section of ReferenceUSA and then apply the data to your needs.
Uncovering the Hidden Job Market: Career Search Strategies Using ReferenceUSA
Attendees will learn how to use ReferenceUSA as part of their career searching strategy. Included will be information on the importance of having accurate information for applications and resumes; creating engaging cover letters; assembling a network of references and referrers; finding key persons at a business to act as mentors; building data sets of potential employers based on skill set, work history, and preferences; and preparing for interviews and interactions through research. We will also explore the Jobs & Internship module, which adds a new dimension to job searching.
ReferenceUSA Big Data and Mapping
Data visualization is the next BIG thing in data. Going beyond static lists of information, ReferenceUSA can help you visualize data elements on a map. Great for understanding how locations relate to each other or seeing densities within a specific area, the ReferenceUSA mapping tools give you a new and powerful way to better understand the landscape. Learn how to build a map to display results and how to manipulate the mapping tools to your advantage.
ReferenceUSA Search Essentials
Designed for anyone new to using our database, this hour-long session will cover all the basics of getting started with ReferenceUSA. We will cover the four essentials anyone, particularly those new to ReferenceUSA, will want to know in order to successfully use the resource. This is also be a great opportunity for current users to learn some new tips, tricks, and techniques. Lots of time will be reserved at the end of the session for questions.
Like many of you, I participated in the NCLA conference last week. As a first-timer, whatever expectations I brought with me stemmed from recollections of other state conferences I have attended. At those other state conferences I remember small crowds, grim venues, lackluster, scanty-attended sessions, cliques of old friends roaming in exclusive “packs,” and a general sense that the state conference was a prelude to some other, bigger event, for which the attendees were saving their best. In short, these weren’t my favorite conferences.
NCLA could not have been more different. First, the venue: The Koury Convention Center in Greensboro was elegant, convenient and well appointed. Second, the planning and organization: Rodney Lippard and the rest of the NCLA Planning Committee did an extraordinary job putting together an event that was fun, thought provoking, collegial and easy to navigate. Planning an event like this can often feel like a Sisyphean, thankless job. Kudos to the Planning Committee for a great success. Finally, the attendees: While it was clear that many attendees were excited to meet up with old friends and former colleagues, never did the existing relationships preclude new relationships from forming. Attendees were welcoming and inclusive, helping us first timers feel comfortable, and they went out of their way to introduce us newbies to longtime NCLA attendees. NCLA is yet another example of why North Carolina libraries should be proud of their community.
I want to thank the many, many individuals I met who expressed their gratitude for and support of NC LIVE. The reception I received and the people I met were gracious, lively and inspiring. We are an organization driven by our members for our members and we could not succeed without your continued support. Thank you!
NC LIVE was a platinum sponsor of NCLA 2015 and participated in several presentations, as well as hosted a Homegrown author reading and book signing. If you were not able to attend our sessions in person, you can find copies here.
In our session “NC LIVE: Past, Present and Future,” I introduced the audience to a brand new organization. This new organization’s...
- mission is to help member libraries better support education, enhance economic development, and improve the quality of life of all North Carolinians.
- values include shared success through collaboration and cooperation.
- sole purpose is to support North Carolina libraries.
- status is not-for-profit, and it is staffed by a dedicated, passionate team of librarians right here in North Carolina.
- future is whatever NC Libraries decide it will be.
Sound familiar? By now you know I’m talking about NC LIVE, but I hope the temporary sleight-of-hand was useful in getting you to imagine what the future of an organization with as broad a mission as NC LIVE can be, independent of its past. We used a 1-minute survey to collect the audience’s input and will leave the survey open to anyone in the NC LIVE community through November 20th. I encourage you to take a minute to vote.
For 17 years NC LIVE has been synonymous with providing e-resources to its member libraries at a significantly reduced rate. This history is something everyone involved with NC LIVE is proud of, but it can hinder us when considering what our future could be. Only by forgetting for a moment what NC LIVE has been up to this point and thinking broadly about what NC LIVE could be going forward can we ensure that NC LIVE remains focused on the most pressing needs of our member libraries.
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Dear NC LIVE Community,
I’m Rob Ross, the new Executive Director of NC LIVE. I could not be happier to join an organization as impactful as NC LIVE and to serve a library community as revered as that of North Carolina. I want to use this space to tell you a little about myself.
Who I am
My professional bio can be found online, so I won’t duplicate that here. Instead, I’ll share a few personal tidbits so that, when you see me in person, you’ll have no shortage of conversation starters--
- I am from Akron, Ohio and am the youngest of four children.
- My wife and I own and spoil three tiny dogs (Italian Greyhound, Miniature Pinscher and Mutt).
- I am food-obsessed, planning most weekends around where to eat.
- I love to travel, a few favorite spots being Sintra, Portugal, Lyon, France and Taos, New Mexico.
- I am in the process of (slowly) restoring my second vintage car, a 1960 Jaguar MK2.
- I am a soccer nerd, so much so that I take scouting notes while watching matches to record each player’s strengths and weaknesses.
- I have something of an obsession with a properly made old-fashioned cocktail. If you know where I can get one in the Triangle, please let me know.
Where I come from
I began my career working in academic libraries, where I focused on Resource Sharing. But for the past 8+ years I worked at OCLC, where I had the privilege to learn how a 20,000+ library membership organization operates. During that time I was lucky enough to have some wonderful mentors who provided me opportunities to learn a broad array of business skills that I am now utilizing in my work on behalf of NC LIVE member libraries.
At OCLC I built programs to help libraries of all types successfully implement new technologies. I especially enjoyed this role because working with libraries during an implementation provides a window into their culture, management style and attitudes toward change. Implementations - even well-intentioned and well-planned ones - are stressors and, as such, bring to the surface all sorts of interesting dynamics. I felt incredibly fortunate, in my position, to be able to see the inner workings of so many libraries. My role as “outsider” provided me a unique vantage point from which to spot common trends in libraries, both good and bad.
One lesson I learned is that libraries are far more similar than they are different, even when they serve different user communities. Patrons seek information and librarians, among many other things, help them find information as well as make their own. This fundamental role transcends all nuances. What’s more, libraries often utilize the same systems, content and services in helping patrons, giving them yet more in common. While it’s easy to get hung up on the idiosyncrasies that make each of our libraries different, we have far more in common than not.
Another lesson I learned is that libraries can accomplish more together than they can alone. It was our practice at OCLC to place implementing libraries into cohorts so that they could capitalize on the expertise and generosity of their peers to find the best solutions for their library. Initially, libraries of different stripes expressed doubt as to whether or not they could learn (or teach) much from their new cohort-mates. Inevitably, over the course of their implementation, these libraries found common ground, discovered resident expertise across the cohort, and formed mutually beneficial and sometimes unlikely partnerships with other libraries. When a cohort jelled, it demonstrated how the power of individual libraries can be exponentially amplified through collaboration.
Why NC LIVE?
One of the first observations I made during the interview process was that NC LIVE’s members are incredibly engaged in its day-to-day operations. I was able to meet several members of the working committees, who were kind enough to provide brief synopses of their current projects, and I was bowled over not only by the talent on display, but the level of commitment and sense of ownership committee members demonstrated. It was evident that NC LIVE depends upon its members not only to set strategic direction, but also to carry out the work required to execute that strategy. No doubt this grassroots approach ensures that NC LIVE acts in the best interests of its members. For if we strayed, you all would quickly notice and set us straight!
While most other consortia are bound by the demographic they serve, limiting the efficiencies of scale they can realize, NC LIVE consists of four distinct Communities of Interest (COIs), yet acts as one entity in order to provide the broadest array of e-resources at the best cost for North Carolinians. But operating as one entity across the state has other advantages as well. Consider the lifecycle of a North Carolinian patron. A grade school student discovers NC LIVE resources at her public library while working on a school science project about how rockets work. Years later, as a community college student, she uses Occupational Outlook via NC LIVE to select a major. A few years later at university she again relies on NC LIVE content to finish her senior capstone on urban renewal. As an adult, this same woman returns to NC LIVE resources to research a medical condition, start a business, and plan for retirement. It is truly powerful to work on behalf of an organization that enriches the lives of so many people at every stage of their development.
During the interview process, I took a closer look at the mission statement of NC LIVE: “NC LIVE helps member libraries to better support education, enhance economic development, and improve the quality of life of all North Carolinians.” I was struck by the enormous potential of NC LIVE to build on its accomplishments over the past 17 years of bringing e-resources to the citizens of North Carolina. What more can NC LIVE do to fulfill its mission? What programs, resources, services, partnerships, initiatives, etc. can NC LIVE and its members launch to make an even more significant impact on its communities?
What to expect
I’ve learned from other leaders that the wisest course in the first months in a new role is to ask questions, listen, and learn. With this in mind, in the coming months I have three priorities:
● To engage with NC LIVE member libraries. I want to meet NC LIVE member libraries so I can begin to understand your library’s most pressing challenges, what you value about NC LIVE today, and what you feel NC LIVE can help you accomplish in the future.
● To help tell the story of NC LIVE with you. What the members of NC LIVE have accomplished over the past 17 years is incredible and inspiring. Telling the stories of how NC LIVE has impacted the citizens of North Carolina is a critical means of sustaining (and increasing) support for NC LIVE.
● To grow NC LIVE. The achievements of NC LIVE in the area of e-resources are impressive. But libraries have many other areas of need and, as a library membership organization with a broad mission, NC LIVE is well-positioned to help meet those needs. Growth could take the form of new or expanded services, membership growth, or new strategic partnerships. Ultimately, how NC LIVE grows will be up to its members - you all.
Watch this space
My intention is to use this space to engage with the NC LIVE community. I can’t predict exactly what I will write about, but it’s safe to say that I’ll be sharing my observations as I get to know you all, I’ll be soliciting your input on ideas for new initiatives, and I’ll be discussing library leadership topics of interest. I’ll also be taking requests. If you have a topic you’d like my thoughts on, please let me know.
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I look forward to meeting you, learning more about your library and its challenges, and identifying what NC LIVE can do to help. Please don’t hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, LinkIn with me, or, if you see me at an event, please introduce yourself. For those attending the NCLA Conference, I hope to see you there!
We are more similar than we are different, and we can continue to accomplish more together than alone.